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Why be flexible?

By Julian Smith, Director, I Am Recruiting.


Greetings from Lisbon! I’m writing this blog in a small apartment on a Sunday morning, from the Bairro Alto district. The balcony doors thrown wide open, letting in the sounds and smells of early morning Lisbon, together with what little breeze the morning can muster. The reason I’m writing this, is in defence of flexible working, an idea which I firmly believe makes people much more productive, and if handled correctly, much more loyal.


Benefits, like employees, come in all shapes and sizes. Big, blanket rights such as free bicycle loans, eye tests, childcare vouchers, corporate gym memberships. Great if you’re one of the small percentage of employees who is able to use them all – perhaps a keep-fit fanatic with small children, poor eyesight and a small cycle-friendly commute to the office – but flexible working is the most consistently asked for and the least offered benefit in sixteen years in recruitment for the non-profit sector.


Why this remains so is a mystery. The reason I’m here in Portugal is to spend several days working with my colleague Christian who prizes flexible working over all else. He’s in Portugal for 5 weeks, and although it took him a little while to settle into a new routine, the quality of work is as good as ever, and he’s found fantastic candidates for a plethora of complicated roles. He’s happy. Our clients remain happy. His candidates are ecstatic – and all of the above makes me happy. We’ve adjusted his role, and divvied up most of the administration between the office-based team, but Christian now has a work-life balance which suits his life goals, and he’s proving to me that remote working works for him.


Flexible working needn’t be so drastic as supporting a colleague’s move to another country, however. It could be condensed days, or a 9-day fortnight. It could be a later start or an earlier finish, to allow a parent to take or collect children to or from school. It could be a reasonable adjustment to counter a painful commute. Or it could mean the opportunity to claim a duvet day on one of those days you might not feel like going into work.


What all of the above have in common is that they help employees to get a better work-life balance. This in turn leads to greater employee happiness and engagement. Employees feel supported by their companies, and this engenders feelings of loyalty. The more loyal somebody is, the harder they tend to work. The harder they work, the more productive they are, the less they phone in sick, and the more they get rewarded, either in terms of trust and freedom, or year-end bonuses, promotions or other incentives. It’s a virtuous circle, one that employers should be offering to improve morale, increase staff retention and cut down on sick days and performance issues.


I appreciate that not every role can be performed remotely, and not every employee will ask for flexible working, but all employees can request flexible working from their employer. Legally speaking, it is a right to request, not an absolute right to be given it, but employers are required to objectively consider requests made in writing in a “reasonable manner” – and the chances are, if you refuse such a request to a valuable member of staff, they may go elsewhere, to a more flexible employer.


Forget the expensive staff benefits which might have seemed like innovative perks at the time, the only benefit the work force of the future will demand is increased flexibility from their employers. As small employers, we understand the benefits of flexible working. We now have 4 non-office-based members of staff, 2 of whom work mainly from mainland Europe, and a further 2 employees on reduced-hours contracts. We encourage all team members to have a day a week working from home or a different office, and trust our team to deliver, wherever they are.


I started my recruitment career in 2001, and I can categorically tell you that nobody has ever accepted a job from a recruiter on the basis of ‘free fruit Fridays’ or a generous ‘death-in-service’ pay out! When’s the last time your organisation asked its employees what they really want?


Maybe we can help you to engage your staff, through simple but effective staff surveys and consultations? The money you spend on such an exercise should be offset against the increased staff satisfaction and productivity, and the reduction in staff turnover, sickness and ER cases. For an informal chat about what I Am Recruiting and its partners can do for you, contact Julian Smith on 020 7148 6749 or email julian@iamenterprises.co.uk


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